The truth about torture, terrorism and secrecy – as told by Britain’s former spy chief

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year ago, the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, raised eyebrows in the darker recesses of Whitehall by telling some home truths in her BBC Reith lectures about the security and intelligence agencies.

She returns to her three key themes – torture, terrorism and secrecy – on Thursday with the publication of a short book, Securing Freedom, based on those lectures. It is a refreshing antidote to the rhetoric deployed by ministers and their acolytes who appear too frightened to come clean on any issue relating to that elusive but overarching concept of “national security”. Here are some points that MI5, MI6, the CIA and the new justice secretary Chris Grayling should note:

1. “Torture is illegal in our national law and in international law. It is wrong and never justified … Torture should be utterly rejected even when it may offer the prospect of saving lives … I am confident that I know the answer to the question of whether torture has made the world a safer place. It hasn’t.”

MI5 and MI6 remain embroiled in the unresolved dispute about their role in the abuse and torture of terror suspects. The government tried to push allegations under the carpet by compensating UK residents and citizens taken by the CIA to Guantánamo Bay – and no sooner had it done so than evidence emerged in Libya showing how MI6 helped arrange the abduction of Libyan dissidents to Tripoli, where they say they were tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police. “There are clearly questions to be answered about … whether the UK supped with a sufficiently long spoon,” says Manningham-Buller, who was head of MI5 at the time. MI6, which was ultimately accountable to then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, says the rendering of the dissidents to Libya in 2004 was authorised by ministers.

2. “Rushing to legislate in the wake of a terrorist atrocity is often a mistake,” says Manningham-Buller in a clear reference to the Blair government’s practice of drawing up more and more “counter-terrorism” laws, a practice sharply criticised by Ken Clarke, now sacked as justice secretary. “We compound the problem of terrorism if we use it to erode the freedom of us all,” she adds. To the surprise of her former colleagues in MI5, she used her maiden speech in the Lords to attack the Labour government’s proposal to detain suspected terrorists without charge for up to 42 days.

Will the reshuffled government succumb to pressure from the security and intelligence agencies and introduce more laws they hope will frighten terrorists, ignoring the root causes? Governments, including the British, talk to terrorists, and, Manningham-Buller reminds us, they have “too often preferred the stability of the devil we know to the uncertainties of democracy” – a reference to the Arab spring and Britain’s close relations with Middle Eastern autocracies.

3. “The scrutiny of the security and intelligence agencies will evolve, and it is right that it should. But, given that intelligence to counter these threats will still be needed, that scrutiny will never be able to be transparent. For to secure freedom, within a democracy and within the law, some secrets have to remain.” And there’s the rub. “Overt information may be more important than secret intelligence. There are those, the sceptical observers I wish the readers of intelligence to be, who believe that governments hype threats for their own purposes to ensure legislation proceeds through parliament.”

The coalition government is determined to push through into law its “justice and security” bill designed to prevent any information from the security and intelligence agencies, domestic or foreign, from ever being disclosed in court. The very existence of such secret hearings would be secret, if the government has its way. Ironically, its fate may well end up in the hands of Manningham-Buller and others in the (unreformed) House of Lords.

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HSBC guilty but walk free, Shaker Aamer innocent but still in Guantanamo.

You get the justice you can afford…

According to the media, the City of London’s reputation has been severely damaged by HSBC’s money laundering scandal. What rubbish. It’s favourable services offered to the drug dealing and terrorist communities is precisely what gives the City its “competitive edge.” However, the City of London’s competitors may be a little more squeamish (or tightly regulated) to profit from such rich pickings.

So what happens to those caught red handed abetting Al Qaeda and drug dealing organisations?  They resign, say sorry and promise not to do it again.

HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s head of group compliance, David Bagley, was faced with charges that HSBC gave terrorists, drug cartels and criminals access to the U.S. financial system by failing to guard against money laundering. The result; Bagley stated at a Senate hearing that he will step down. He has also been told to release a formal apology.

 

Compare this to how people like Shaker Aamer are treated. Shaker, a completely innocent man cleared for release but, even today, still stuck in  Guantanamo in a nightmare limbo. He had been  extraordinarily rendered from Afganistan, tortured and imprisoned for more than 10 years without trial or access to his family.

You can watch Spectacles new film on Shaker Aamer’s story here and sign the petition here.

You could also compare it to how ‘rioters’ were treated following the London riots in August 2011. Mother-of-two Ursula Nevin,  was jailed for five months for receiving a pair of shorts that had been looted from a city centre store, and Nicholas Robinson was jailed for six months for stealing a case of water worth £3.50.

So when the media talk about restoring the “City’s reputation” what they mean is restoring the cosy myth of decent trustworthy pinstripped chaps simply being better at “invisible exports” than their counterparts in Paris, Amsterdam, New York or Frankfurt. The big mistake, as was the case for Ursula Nevin and Nicolas Robinson, was being caught. The real loss of reputation is among the drug cartels and terrorists. Can they really trust the City of London to keep their operational secrets?

One wonders what the reaction might be if the bank and bankers in question were Islamic, or from say Iran or Gaddaffi’s Libya. Would it be a completely different story…?

Spectacle has made a short film about Shaker Aamer to mark the 10th anniversary of his incarceration. Watch Spectacle’s new video on Shaker Aamer and please sign the petition @ www.freeshaker.com. Get him out of Guantanamo!

Order Spectacle’s DVD Outside The Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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Or visit our Guantánamo project pages for more information and videos.

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The Hostages of Guantanamo: A Letter From Shaker Aamer

 A letter from Shaker Aamer, the last UK resident in Guantanamo Bay, to is lawyer has been recently unclassified by the Pentagon. The letter, dated July 15 2011, describes the inhumane treatment the detainee of ten years has been experiencing and the continuing injustice that led him to begin a peaceful protest involving a hunger strike.

I the signatory below, in Camp 5E announce the start of a peaceful protest/hunger strike for the reasons enumerated below:

1. The opening and continuing operation of this unjust detention facility for the ninth year of my continuing and indefinite detention in the absence of any real accusation or crimes committed. Therefore I am hostage.

2. The inhumane treatment and deprivation of some of the items we are truly in need of, most important of which are the family calls since they are most critical to our families, especially to those experiencing special circumstances. Therefore, I want these calls to take place on a continuing basis and recur once every 15 days. These family calls ought to last no less than 2 hours with further consideration given to those experiencing special circumstances. I also speak for the regular mail to be made more efficient and provide us with e-mail.

3. The inhumane treatment is taking place at the hospital among other areas especially affecting the sick and those who are on strike and our deprivation of real treatment, health diet and appropriate clothing which are not provided to us nor are we allowed to provide them for ourselves.

4. Not upholding the promise that both your president and government gave on 01/21/2009 concerning the closing of Guantánamo detention facility. Very few people have left ever since although many here have been deemed to not represent any danger for the United States. Therefore, I ask you to establish justice and remove the injustice that has befallen us and our brothers in all detention centers.

By submitting these demands, I affirm our right to life. We want our freedom and the right to return to our homes since I am innocent of the charges (if there were any) you have levied against us. I ask that you establish justice that you claim to be a foundation of your country.

After these years of hardship we have spent here — and which I managed to do only through the grace of God, otherwise I would have lost my sanity — I want you to consider my case as soon as possible and give me the right to a just and public trial or set me free without conditions.

Shaker Aamer (00239)

 

See our Shaker Aamer pages for more information.

Sign the Government petition to return Shaker Aamer to the UK.

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Shaker Aamer – Ten Years On


Shaker Aamer is one of the 171 men still held in Guantanamo Bay and its last remaining British resident. Despite never having had a trial, having been approved for release twice and been the focus of a high-profile campaign for his immediate release, Shaker has remained in detention for more than ten years. His physical and mental health deterioration is also a prevalent concern.

Spectacle is making a short film about Shaker Aamer to mark the tenth anniversary of his incarceration. The film includes interviews with activists and former detainees and paints a picture of who Shaker Aamer is and the injustices he has endured for the last decade.

The project area of the Spectacle website also contains full information about Shaker Aamer, the progress of the campaign and links to more content such as Scott Horton’s 2010 article, ‘The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle’, published in Harper’s Magazine.

Order Spectacle’s DVD Outside The Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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A screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo” at the European Parliament in Brussels- January 24


On Tuesday January 24, at 7 pm, there will be a special screening of the acclaimed documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at the European Parliament in Brussels. The screening will take place in the main European Parliament building, the Altiero Spinelli Building, Rue Wiertz, in Room ASP – 3G2, on the 3rd floor, and Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner, and the director of the NGO Cageprisoners, will be joining Andy Worthington and Polly Nash for the screening, and for the Q&A session afterwards.

 

The screening has been arranged by Jean Lambert (UK Green MEP), with the support of Sarah Ludford (UK Liberal Democrat MEP) and Ana Gomes (Portuguese Socialist MEP), and the purpose of the screening is to raise awareness of the continued existence of Guantánamo, and its mockery of universal notions of fairness and justice, ten years after the prison opened, on January 11, 2002. Given President Obama’s very public failure to close the prison as promised, it is essential that other countries step forward to take cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated, and one of the main purposes of the screening is to encourage EU countries to re-engage with the process of resettling prisoners that was so successful in 2009 and 2010.

The screening is free, but anyone who wishes to attend needs to contact Rachel Sheppard, the Parliamentary Assistant to Jean Lambert MEP:  jean.lambert@europarl.europa.eu

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

If those wishing to attend do not already have an access badge for the European Parliament, they need to provide their full name, date of birth, nationality, passport number or ID card and number and also specify the type of document (passport, ID card) so that access badges can be arranged. Without an access badge, those wishing to attend the screening will not be allowed.

Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington will be available to talk to the press along with Jean Lambert MP, Sarah Ludford MEP and Ana Gomes MEP they are hoping to have the opportunity to discuss the need for European countries to revisit the generosity shown in 2009 and 2010, when many offered new homes to cleared Guantánamo prisoners who could not be safely repatriated.

171 prisoners are still held in Guantánamo, and 89 of these have been cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. 58 of these men are Yemenis, whose release is being prevented by President Obama, and by Congress, but others remain in need of new homes, and it is only the absence of offers from, for example, countries in Europe, that is preventing them from finally being freed.

As Guantánamo recently marked the 10th anniversary of its opening, with no sign of when, if ever it will close, given Congressional opposition, and the President’s refusal, or inability to assert his authority, it would be a powerful humanitarian gesture if European countries once more agreed to take cleared prisoners, to help to close this shameful icon of the Bush administration’s misguided “war on terror.”

 

Order Spectacle’s DVD Outside The Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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Guantánamo – 10 years on

The London Guantánamo Campaign is marking the illegal detention centre’s first 10 years’ existence with a series of actions in January 2012.

Including a candlelight vigil outside the US embassy in London on 12th January, these actions have been designed to highlight a decade where over 800 prisoners were detained, most of them without charge or trial and subjected to torture and abuse.

The US Embassy can be found on Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE (nearest underground: Bond Street/ Marble.)

The LGC has also launched an e-petition which will be forwarded to the US ambassador to the UK, Louis Susman, on 11th January 2012 calling on the US government to repatriate UK prisoners Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha.

Click here to add your name to the e-petition.

Anyone wishing to get involved or obtain further information in any of the LGC’s planned events can email london.gtmo@gmail.com

Further details on the LGC can be found here

 

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Shaker Aamer: 10 Years on

 

The Independent has drawn attention today to the “decade in detention without trial” of Shaker Aamer, cleared for release in 2007. The article emphasised Shaker’s current declining health and concerns about the amount of time he has endured in solitary confinement.

As a British resident, Shaker looks to be spending his tenth year in Guantanamo Prison where his recent hunger strike draws ever more concern about just exactly what it means to have been “cleared for release” in the United States of America. While this is a case that has drawn minimum media attention in the past ten years, what seems to be lacking is not just a public awareness of the issue but an informed public response to it.

One reader’s comment on the Independent article, with more than 10 ‘likes’, has expressed hostility about the idea of British taxpayers money being used on “lawyers looking after his interests” with a reluctance to accept Shaker as a British resident. This kind of prejudice dominating the response to the Independent article is disconcerting, especially given that we know of the torture received by Shaker in Guantanamo Prison and the trauma that has befallen his family for ten years now, particularly his son, who has never seen him. Shaker was abducted while residing in Afghanistan to build wells and a school for children as a charitable act. The real issue here is one of humanity and a huge injustice in the legal system of America – not one to do with terrorism or a bigoted gripe about who is paying for Shaker’s lawyers, who he has only had very little contact with anyway. He is a British citizen, it must be remembered.

The article brings little more to light than a reminder and a vague description of a decline in Shaker’s situation. Perhaps more prominent are the superfical and racist comments brought about by the article from an audience that seem unaware of the plight of Shaker, Omar Khadr and others suffering the injustices of Guantanamo.

It is interesting that fifty years after Stanley Milgram‘s experiment into obedience to authority; there has been no shift in human development. We still believe in upholding the justice system even when it is killing innocent people and destroying lives. We need to stop putting our trust in Government actions simply because it is easier to ignore them. Progress comes with education, so if you want more information about the save Shaker Aamer campaign, spend just five minutes getting to know his case and just why we need to call for his release today.

Please join the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign

Watch video- Omar Deghayes, former Guantanamo Bay detainee, describes his interrogation by British Intelligence agent, “Andrew”, and others (MI5 and MI6) while held illegally in Pakistan.

Order Spectacle’s DVD Outside The Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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Or visit our Guantánamo project pages for more information and videos.

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UK’s secret policy on torture: a threat to national security




Today the Guardian exclusively revealed  the UK’s secret policy on torture.
The document shows intelligence officers were instructed to “weigh the importance of information sought against the pain inflicted”.

One section states: “If […] that information will be or has been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, the negative consequences may include […] adverse effects on national security if the fact […] were to be publicly revealed”

Not only does this document expose the UK’s complicity with torture, which it acknowledges is illegal under UK and international law, but it also attempts to justify the need for keeping the policy secret because it may increase the threat from terrorism. In other words it is not the illegal torture policy that is a problem- just people finding out about it.

In other words, as any criminal will surely agree, the real crime is being found out.  The document attempts to blame the messenger or whistle-blower for any potential negative “blow back” rather than the torture policy itself.

Behind this lies a remarkable confidence that both the victims and the perpetrators of torture will keep silent or will not be believed if they speak out.
This policy of secrecy would explain why credible witness and UK resident Shaker Aamer is still in Guantanamo. It would appear he will be held until tormented into insanity.

Please join the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign

Watch video- Omar Deghayes, former Guantanamo Bay detainee, describes his interrogation by British Intelligence agent, “Andrew”, and others (MI5 and MI6) while held illegally in Pakistan.

Order Spectacle’s DVD Outside The Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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MI5 implicated in new torture allegations

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The British intelligence services have been implicated in fresh allegations of torture, the Guardian has revealed.

In spite of promises from the government to investigate the complicity of the Intelligence services in the use of torture against terror suspects, it is alleged that MI5 was involved in a case of  ‘rendition’ as late as July last year. Omar Awadh, a Kenyan businessman, was secretly captured and deported to Uganda (a practice referred to as ‘rendition’) in the wake of the July 2010 bombings in Kampala. He was subsequently held in prison where he claims that he was tortured by local security officials and interrogated by officers from MI5 and the FBI.

Previously, detainees from Guantanamo such as Omar Deghayes, have claimed that they were questioned by British intelligence officials during their time in detention. In July 2010, shortly before the bombings that lead to Awadh’s arrest, David Cameron announced plans for an inquiry into the complicity of MI5 in the outsourcing of torture to other countries and promised compensation if it was confirmed that British Intelligence had permitted the torture of UK citizens.

Although Mr Cameron was keen to investigate human rights breaches committed under the last government, he has yet to respond to the latest torture allegations in the Guardian.

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Launch Screening – Outside The Law: Stories From Guantánamo

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo
(Spectacle Productions, 2009; 74 mins., directed by Polly Nash, with Andy Worthington)

The Film is being launched at the Cochrane Theatre in London on Wednesday 21st October in association with Cageprisoners and the Guantanamo Justice Centre. Ticket are free but should be booked in advance via www.cochranetheatre.co.uk or 020 7269 1606

Doors open 6pm, film starts 7pm, Q&A 8.30pm

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).

Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes (who was released in December 2007)  — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.

The film contains interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes) lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

For more information visit Spectacle Projects

Polly Nash is a lecturer at the London College Of Communications, part of the University of the Arts, London, and has worked in film and TV for 20 years.

Andy Worthington is a journalist and blogger, and the author of three books, including The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (Pluto Press). His website is: www.andyworthington.co.uk

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